October 29, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Quarry”


Cinemax’s QUARRY felt like a pulpier version of Rectify, and it came by that lineage naturally:  although based on a series of crime novels by Max Allan Collins, and with all 8 episodes often stunningly directed by Banshee‘s Greg Yaitanes, the series was created and run by Graham Cordy and Michael D. Fuller, who were Rectify staff writers.  The result was both gripping and tedious, powerful and pompously self-important.

The setting–unerringly realized by Yaitanes, cinematographer Pepe Avila del Pino, production designer Roshelle Berliner, and costume designer Patia Prouty–was Memphis in 1972, and clearly the show was both narratively and visually influenced by a certain strain of existential movie thriller from that era, cult films like Night Moves, Cutter’s Way and Who’ll Stop The Rain.  The difference is that those films (which weren’t mainstream successes even when new) told their stories in 2 hours, while Quarry, counting its super-sized finale, was closer to 8 1/2.  The length gave Quarry space to showcase its fine, intense acting and its creators’ larger aims for their genre story, but also made for some awfully slack pacing, especially given the lack of substantial subplots and generally thin central storyline.

Tonight’s season finale was particularly ambitious.  Cordy and Fuller were at great pains all season to give Quarry a political dimension, including scenes of the show’s protagonist, purportedly reluctant hitman Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), suffering PTSD after returning from Vietnam (sometimes resembling Rectify‘s protagonist, recently released from Death Row), and a (not very well developed) depiction of anti-busing riots in Memphis.  The finale’s action took place on and around Election Day in 1972, as Richard Nixon destroyed George McGovern at the polls.  The episode quickly and explosively took care of the cliffhanger that had concluded the previous hour, and zeroed in on a pair of climactic events for Mac.  In the present, he had accomplished his goal of fulfilling his hitman obligations to The Broker (Peter Mullen), and could begin an unencumbered life with wife Joni (Jodi Balfour)–if he chose to–while flashbacks finally took him (and us) back to the events in Vietnam that had brought him home under a cloud, accused of taking part in a My Lai-type massacre.

When we finally reached the events at that Vietnamese village, Yaitanes pulled out all the stops, rendering the sequence in what appeared to be an unbroken 10-minute shot (per Yaitanes, there were actually a couple of cuts).  It was dazzling, but also a bit self-conscious and distracting (it was hard not to make mental comparisons between the sequence and Joe Wright’s long-take Dunkirk set-piece in Atonement), which also describes much of Quarry.  For a series that had often seemed not to be very mindful of where it was going, Cordy and Fuller worked too hard to tie up loose ends, and the Big Reveal that The Broker had actually ordered the slaughter in Vietnam in order to take over the village’s opium crop, and that this is how he’d learned what an effective killing machine Mac was and decided to lure Mac into his employ, felt cheap, reducing the awfulness of what Mac had gone through to a plot twist.

Quarry could deliver startling, brilliantly choreographed action and suspense when it wanted to, but often it got bogged down in lengthy Scenes From A Marriage-esque marital angst between Mac and Jodi, or in the relationship between gay fellow hit man Buddy (Damon Herriman) and his mother (Ann Dowd), or the family drama among the survivors of Mac’s fellow soldier and hitman Arthur (Jamie Hector).  These scenes were often well-written , and always beautifully acted, but they stopped Quarry in its tracks, putting burdens on the characters that they weren’t conceived to carry, and mixing badly with the B-movie tropes of The Broker and his gang.  Banshee did a far better job of balancing its pulp with its people.

Quarry‘s ratings this season were low, and its future hasn’t yet been announced, but Cinemax is trying to build a brand, and the series occupies what might be a sweet spot between the entertainment of Banshee and the uncompromising art of The Knick.  If there are to be future seasons, they’d benefit from more of a commitment to telling a story and less to imparting deeper meanings.  The title Quarry comes from The Broker’s half-mocking, half-admiring nickname for stony Mac, and viewers just shouldn’t have to dig so hard to find his show’s riches.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."